A Vow Broken Before the Gods: Poem Number 38

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The third poem in our series dedicated to women is another personal favorite:

忘らるるWasuraruruForgotten by him,
身をば思はずMi wo ba omowazuI do not think of myself.
誓ひてしChikaite shiBut I can’t help worry
人の命のHito no inochi noabout the life of the man who
惜しくもあるかなOshiku mo aru kanaswore so fervently before the gods!
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The author, Ukon (右近), takes her sobriquet after her father’s position in the Court as Lesser Captain of the Right Bodyguards, or ukon-e no shōshō (右近衛少将). Apparently she was a busy woman. Like her father, she is said to have had a number of romantic liaisons, but she also actively participated in poetry contests, served as a lady in waiting to the Empress and is mentioned in a later text called the Tales of Yamato.

Professor Mostow explains that there are historically two interpretations to this poem. One interpretation is that she wrote the letter to her cold lover, conveying a mean, sarcastic tone, while the other explanation is more of a private letter to herself. This second meaning then sounds less harsh in tone, and more tragic.

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